September 6, 2007

F: Flash and how to shoot without it

It's no secret that I am not a fan of flash. No, that's not entirely correct. There's a time and a place...but most of the time, the flash is abused and photos don't turn out well because of it.

To illustrate my point? This is one of my most favorite reasons why people don't use flash properly...

the specs: ISO 400, F/5, 1 sec.

A flash is effective for a few yards away...at most. Everyone's flashes going off at the Kenny Chesney concert are completely ineffective...except to me. I love this flashbulb picture! :)

The image above was taken with a Canon point and shoot...on Tv, for a second-long exposure. It caught the flashbulbs and records them as mini stars. It caught all the ambient light and made it all warm and glowy.

It's one of the reasons I focus my photography on natural light.

A good deal of the time, flash is unnecessary. Try looking for the light. You don't need to be in bright sunlight to have good light. Some of my most favorite light is found just on the edge of shadows...where it's bright but not overbearing.

How to find the light when you don't want to use flash?

  • Watch for the source of the light. Is it coming through a window? Reflected off a light surface? Where's the shadow falling? Can you position your subject so that the light highlights them?
  • Open curtains, blinds, find where the light can fall in. Position your subject near that light.
  • Open your aperture up to a larger f/stop, to let more light fall onto the lens.
  • Lower your shutter speed, so the image can expose for a bit longer. You may need to steady your camera on a tripod or a table.
  • Increase your ISO (more on this later). Remember that the higher the ISO, the greater the 'grain' in the photo...so use this only as needed.
A few challenging images that I've shot in low-light situtations...

A chapel in Slovenia - with no lighting.
Due to the frescoes on the wall, you aren't allowed to use flash in these rooms (not that it would be all that helpful anyway). I really wanted to capture the cracked ceiling and Slovenian wording, so I slowed the shutter down, opened the aperture, and let as much light in as possible.

the specs: ISO 400, F/2.8, 1/15 sec.

Me with my grandma's luminaria, Celebration on the Hill, Washington DC
A self-portrait, by remote control. I wanted to capture an image for my grandma (a breast cancer survivor) of me with her luminaria in the Iowa section of luminaria. I set up a tripod and a remote release setting with a long shutter. You can see by my bobbing head that I wasn't patient enough to capture myself still. :)

the specs: ISO 100, F/5.6, 3.2 sec.

Luminaria at the Relay For Life of Tacoma
To capture these amazingly detailed luminaria with the inner glow, you need to steady the camera for a longer exposure. I set it on the ground and used a remote to trigger it, so my hand wouldn't shake the image.

the specs: ISO 400, F/2.8, 1/13 sec.

Baby Aubrey
The skies were dark, without much light coming in the window. I upped the ISO, which gives the slightly 'grainy' appearance and adds to the mood.

the specs: ISO 1000, F/2.8 1/50 sec.

Kat and Andrew
I was looking for a grainy-er image with some of the stained glass blowing out. The challenge was to light them with the light pouring in from the other side (hitting their faces instead of their backs). Upping the ISO did the trick.

the specs: ISO 1600, F/4, 1/1000 sec.

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